Why Y: The Last Man Needs To Be So Different From Its Comic Origin

A TV adaptation of the Y: The Last Man comics has come to 2021, but the show has had to make a lot of changes to the original source material. The original comics by Brian K. Vaughn ran for 60 issues from September 2002 through to March 2008. The TV show adaptation is being helmed by showrunner Eliza Clark, who has worked hard to update the content for a 2021 audience.

The comics Y: The Last Man is based on see all living mammals with a Y chromosome die suddenly, with the exception of Yorick Brown and his capuchin monkey. The comic follows Yorick in a world where society and infrastructure are collapsing because of the sudden loss of the planet’s men. Yorick goes on a quest to find out why he survived and meets with a cloning expert who works with him to try and find a way to save humanity.

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Brian Vaughn’s Y: The Last Man comics have a strong cult following; however, many of the concepts that the series is based on read poorly to a 2021 audience. While some have claimed that Y: The Last Man presents a feminist narrative, the comics have received heavy criticism for their portrayal of women as ultimately incompetent and prone to infighting; for example, Vaughn suggests that without men around, the U.S. Government would fail to function. Additionally, the premise of the comics is built around a false notion of gender essentialism that was a problem in 2002 but has become more widely understood in 2021 with increased visibility of trans and non-binary individuals living openly. The science behind gender and chromosomes is complicated, but having a virus kill all people with a Y-chromosome and implying that it kills all men runs afoul of basic bio-essentialism, one of the most common forms of anti-trans bias.

While the comics make a brief mention that trans men would have survived the virus due to having no Y chromosome, transgender people are not a focus in this comic series that is purportedly about gender. Furthermore, the title implies that trans men don’t count as men, which has been scientifically refuted. One of the biggest changes for the TV adaptation of Y: The Last Man seeks to correct this error. The show will be adding a brand-new central character to the narrative, Sam Jordan, who is a trans man and will be played by Elliot Fletcher, who is also trans. Eliza Clark has worked to assure people that she views gender as a diverse spectrum, that she knows chromosomes do not equal gender, and that the show will be affirming for all trans and gender non-conforming identities.

Eliza Clark’s changes to Y: The Last Man to make it more inclusive and appropriate for a 2021 audience are commendable. However, the need for so many changes to make the source material palatable to a more socially aware and mainstream audience begs the question of why they would choose to adapt this material into a TV show rather than beginning an original show based on similar themes, aside from the fact that it is easier to sell an adaptation than an original concept. Despite the many changes to the material itself, keeping the comics’ title as the name for the show works to emphasize a connection between the “Y” of chromosomes and the “Last Man” aspect that can provide additional ammunition to gender-critical individuals who are prejudiced against trans people. While Vaughn’s comics have a strong following, the whole concept of the source material of Y: The Last Man is rooted in a fundamentally problematic understanding of gender.

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